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Culture

What the philosopher Javier Gomá thinks about virus threats to humanity, the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussion in the world we knew

Madrid / After science had suggested that the human race was going to be almost perfect, a virus emerged from nature makes its fragility look as if it were one of those protected species in danger of extinction. This threat, in the opinion of the philosopher Javier Gomá, will strengthen a feeling of brotherhood of humanity that will fight borders, identities and regionalisms.

Gomá (Bilbao, 1965), philosopher, writer and essayist, director of the Fundación Juan March analyzes in an interview with EFE the possible scenarios that the pandemic draws in the future both in Spain and in the rest of the world, the growing discomfort that it observes in the citizens for their confinement and how they can learn from historical episodes that traumatized and transformed society.

Q.- Has our society shown its strength by being able to face confinement?

R. – I do not know if it has been strength, responsibility, solidarity … The population has accepted house arrest and impoverishment to protect the elderly, with whom the virus is most vicious. Is this an example of dignity, exemplarity, solidarity or is it docility? In Spain, a muffled murmur is increasingly perceived that any day becomes a cry against confinement.

Q.- How far can this murmur or cry against confinement go?

A.- The people at first, driven by anguish and shock and the news about the deaths, accepted this radical change in customs, but as time passes, the weeks, that initial docility is beginning to change. I do not say that I support it, I only verify it. If the government proclaims the most severe measures in the world and at the same time we have the record of deaths per inhabitant, it is logical that one wonders if the immense sacrifice that so many people are making is proportionate to the result or not. I perceive a tendency to disobedience that is brewing and we will see what happens next.

Q.- Will there be more mistrust towards our rulers and politicians?

A.- Society never has great confidence in politicians. A mature people, as I think Spanish is, place their trust in institutions, in the professions, in citizens and not so much in politics. So it is difficult to be disappointed or distrustful of politicians because as a mature people they are, they no longer place too much trust in politicians. A mature people is one that a politician without too much talent can afford.

Q.- Can the reinforced or severely damaged government come out of this situation?

A.- I once read a study that showed that in a part of the United States every time there was an earthquake, a hurricane … society tended to punish the government, even if it had done nothing. In our daily experience, it happens to us sometimes that a friend gives you bad news and you end up taking a hobby, even if he hasn’t done anything to you. The case of Churchill is well known, who led the resistance of democracy in Europe against Nazi totalitarianism and then captained with the Americans the victory of the Second World War. And he ran for elections and lost. Because there is a time when you associate pain and bitterness, frustration and poverty with some people and you want a change of face. It is very frequent that one punishes those who associate a collective evil like the one that is happening to us, unless you feel that this person can continue saving you from evil, as is happening in Germany with Angela Merkel, who is now almost more popular than at beginning of her mandate because the Germans have seen her as a person who will deliver them from evil. As far as our rulers are concerned, it will depend on whether they are able to convey the image that they are the ones who deliver us from evil or we inevitably associate them with evil. But I am very far from knowing which of the two will happen.

Q.- How will this threat change the world or how has it already changed?

A.- A bad threat entirely to Humanity after science had suggested to us that the human race was going to be almost perfect, fighting aging and death. And suddenly, a virus that has emerged from nature causes that superspecies to be threatened with death. It is a fragile species, one that is declared by international organizations as a protected species. The extinction of the human race is no longer unthinkable. It is not going to happen this time but… what about the next virus, if it is faster, more lethal, if it mutates more easily? The awareness that the human species is threatened will strengthen community feelings. We are all united by the same threat, by the same danger. That strengthens a cosmopolitan feeling. There is only one race, which is the human race, and there is only one principle, which is the dignity of the human being. And all this will tend to dilute identity problems, territorial problems, border problems, localisms, particularisms …

Q.- What will be the traumas that this pandemic will leave us?

A.- This is a crisis in which we know how we have entered but not how it will end. If in six months the forecasts are advanced and there is a vaccine, it is over, we have beaten it. It will have been a traumatic experience, it will have left a bit of bitterness and impoverishment for a large part of the population, but I doubt that it will have much more consequences. The Civil War left a pain of such proportions that when the dictatorship ended, an entire generation tacitly said that it could not happen again. And from the end of the 19th century, beginning of the 20th, the recognition of Human Rights was developing, but all attempts were unsuccessful. What was needed? Not one war, but two world wars with millions of dead so that Humanity would suddenly give itself a declaration of Human Rights. They are examples of extremely traumatic experiences that end up producing some moral progress. But progress is extremely slow.

Q.- Your last book is a philosophical essay called “Dignity” in which you analyze this concept and ask yourself: what is more abundant, misery or human dignity? What have we seen in this health crisis in relation to dignity?

A.- The fact that the whole of society accepts their impoverishment and arrest to protect in principle a weak sector, such as the elderly, is a tribute to dignity. But as long as the result is that we accept economic ruin in exchange for health. If what we have is economic ruin and leadership in deaths, it is when one can think that the sacrifice for dignity is useless. And dignity also includes dignity in death, and we have seen so many cases of people who have not had “their death”, but because of the conditions of the fight against the virus have died alone, without mourning, without ceremonies or burial. This questions whether this death is in accordance with the dignity of the human being.

(May 21, 2020, EFE / PracticaEspañol)

(Automatic translation)

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